Note: This review was written in cooperation with The Idiosyncracy of Life in Words‘ editor bino32.
A deep space barracks receives a distress call from a science facility on an apparently uninhabited planet and sends a small troop of soldiers to investigate, but the installation’s defense system goes rogue and every ship is shot down, with only one (two) marine(s) surviving the crash and finding an alien-infested colony.
More or less story and text
After a rather long FMV introduction with unintentionally funny acting but quite impressive special effects considering the low budget, one would believe that there would be a more cinematic presentation of the story and some character development, but just as in the first game, it doesn’t really matter which marine one plays and if their names are John or Nash (although it now makes more narrative sense if one plays alone and finds the dead body of one’s partner near the crash site). With no further cut-scenes and information about the installation and one’s progress provided only by smartcards one automatically picks up and reads when walking over them, there isn’t much suspense, although if one bothers one can find additional background info on the colonists when reading their personal data discs, but one shouldn’t expect any touching stories.
Seeing mutilated bodies without a sign of an alien at first might give the impression that there would be a more tangible horror atmosphere, but as one is soon overwhelmed by identical-looking aliens (and some very annoying invisible ones) and reads through mission objectives and updates that aren’t as snappily written as one would imagine marine jargon to be, one will find the additional texts more annoying than engaging. They often point out the obvious, but remain very obscure about what one is supposed to do, e.g. picking up a keycard from a doctor who looks identical to other dead people on the floor or that computers that have to be destroyed or an elevator that has to be reached are “somewhere” in the level.
Colored keys and optional ways out
Speaking of keycards, now almost every door opens automatically, except for colored ones for which a specific card has to be found. While collecting normal keycards is still possible with the alternative guns-opening-doors trick according to the manual, one actually doesn’t run into any closed doors except for the colored ones. Another change is the non-linearity of the game, as one can take alternative routes in the planetary complex. However, one shouldn’t expect more variety, because the repetitive shooting-aliens/finding-elevator/escape-during-a-time-limit gameplay stays the same – so do the level codes (of which some are sometimes only given after going through two rather long levels) and the confusing level design. On a positive note, one always starts with a map without having to buy it, but it only shows a small area, while running over some smartcards gives an overall view of the current level. This is certainly an improvement, especially since these maps look like actual screenshots instead of lines and dots. However, they still don’t give the player any clues of where to find mission-critical points of interaction, and the larger map is so pixelated that it’s difficult to make out anything.
Shopping and dropping dead
The gameplay still revolves around collecting cash in order to buy weapons, although now the money can be invested in armor and upgrades, too. As the enemies aren’t the brightest and a few shots of the more powerful weapons are enough to kill them, this RPG-lite element isn’t much of a game-changer, though, as the high difficulty can be attributed to bad level design. It’s obvious that the developers wanted to provide a different setting, and things look promising at the beginning when one is outside the endless corridors… until one takes a step into a mine, is then attacked by salamander-like creatures that are too fast to avoid, and is finally hit by falling asteroid pieces and shot by gun turrets. It becomes apparent how poorly designed these outdoor scenes are, i.e. if one wants to get past rocks blocking the way one has to step right into a mine to blow them up and lose life energy in the process. If one isn’t careful enough, it’s even possible to get stuck in the scenery, resulting in a dead end, and restarting the game becomes necessary. After this, one will be wary about anything resembling debris, which can also be a chair, door, or anything else to get stuck in.
It goes without saying that the same players-stuck-into-one-another problem of the original still prevails, which is a shame, because the controls have been slightly improved. While the movements are still too fast, especially in the aforementioned minefield, one can go backwards while firing, making some enemy encounters a bit easier, as it was only possible to fire in the direction one faced in the original game. What hasn’t been addressed is the limited viewing angle, which is made even worse when one starts a level and an alien is placed immediately in front of the player without giving him or her enough time to react. The few bosses aren’t much to write home about, either, as they might be intimidatingly big, but use the same slow and predictable attack patterns, so with enough ammunition and evasive maneuvers, there shouldn’t be much of a problem to defeat them.
Same old technology, but with a cinematic twist
Graphically, except for the FMV intro, there isn’t much difference between this game and its predecessor (although the loading times are longer), i.e. the sprite work is quite nice, there are more (gorier) details in the background graphics and the explosions look good, but it’s not what one would call impressive. The same is true for the sound design, as except for the title screen, there is again no music, only the same humming sound with its different highs and lows, broken only by the aliens’ dying sounds resembling those of people throwing up, which can become very annoying after a while, and the female robot voice giving some more or less useful information, i.e. when a countdown starts or if one’s partner died, although it would have been nice if “low on energy/ammunition” would have been followed by the appropriate marine’s name, which could save one’s life before running through a door with empty guns blazing.
A sequel that does things differently, but not too much
Alien Breed: Tower Assault could have been a much better game than the original Alien Breed, as the keycard collecting isn’t as annoying and introducing a less linear approach to levels was the right move. Unfortunately, the levels themselves are as uninspiring as the story and characters, made even worse in the case of outdoor hazards one constantly runs into. The mission objectives are repetitive, boss fights are dull, and the multiplayer mode still suffers from collision detection problems, with the game also having some dead ends due to objects one can get stuck in. This is a game that looks and sounds identical to the original, and it almost plays as badly, with only a few improvements that makes playing through it more tolerable.
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